Sunday, March 24, 2013

No longer utterly dependent

A few days ago I got Lasik.  I've been looking forward to it for more than a decade now probably.  My vision has been pretty bad since first grade, and for the past twenty years I haven't been able to see or read much of anything without glasses or contacts.  A week ago I couldn't read a thing that was more than 2-3 inches from my face.  Today with no correction I can see about as well as I could with glasses on.  To call that anything less than a miracle of modern science is underselling it.

To put things in perspective, before the surgery, the number of memories I have from my entire life in which I did not have glasses or contacts I can probably count on one hand.  I remember vague imagery of the playground equipment in the kindergarten area at my elementary school.  I remember the first time I read a word (or one of the very first few), "GAS."  I remember being in a K-Mart or ShopKo or Target and my mom buying me workbooks to help me learn math.  And honestly that's about it.  And then I remember standing in line in front of the school when I first got my glasses, and how soon after, I felt weird without them.  If I was up late at night, I had to put my glasses on to help me sleep because I felt wrong without them.

I don't remember what it was like to wake up to an alarm clock and to actually be able to see that alarm clock.  I don't remember what it was like to be able to walk around without having to feel my way around.  I'm no longer utterly dependent on my glasses and contacts to the point where I am quite nearly blind without them.  I can make love and see who it's with.  I can go on a trip without the disastrous possibility of leaving my glasses behind (which has happened once).  I will likely still need reading glasses or some sort of additional help in a decade, but for now, my life has been changed.

The actual procedure was straightforward and was over in minutes, after all of the preparatory tests and consent was done.  They put some anesthetic in my eyes, put me in a dentist-like chair, and things began.  They put a device around my eyelids that I can only assume was reminiscent of A Clockwork Orange to keep my eye open, and then there was a terrifying device that sounded like a mini sawblade whirring.  They put more drops in my eye that temporarily blacked out my vision, and then thwuck-thwuck, the saw slid in and out.  I could feel the saw apply pressure to my eye which was unsettling but not painful; it was cutting a flap off my cornea.  Then the flap was held back while the laser burned away part of my eye—it smelled like burning hair and filed-down fingernails.  Then the flap was put back in place, more drops were added, and they repeated the procedure on the next eye.  And that was it.

Immediately after the procedure my vision was drastically better—not great, but quite noticeably better.  I could make out peoples' faces, and while they were a little blurry, that in itself was a massive accomplishment.  The world looked like it was underwater, and I could read things on a computer if I turned the zoom level waaaayyy up (250% was the sweet spot).  It was uncomfortable to look at one for too long, though, and my eyes tired very quickly.  The next day, I went in for my post-op appointment where they removed the clear bandages from my eyes, and after my eye test I was told I could expect to get about 20/25 in my left eye and 20/20 in my right eye after healing completed.  That's a nice improvement over the 20/many-thousand vision in my eyes prior.  (My prescriptions were -10.50 and -10.00, if you want to compare.)  That day I could use the computer for somewhat longer periods of time at about a 125% zoom level, though it was still straining.

The following two days were this weekend, and now at the end of Sunday I feel like I'm ready to go back to work tomorrow.  Staring at a computer screen for a long time is still a little challenging (it's too bad that I didn't have those three days of solid meetings after the surgery), but I think I'll be able to last most of a workday at this point.

I still have to put drops in my eyes every hour or sooner for the next month or so, and I have three different kinds to use right now.  What really surprised me is that there was no real pain besides the discomfort of the dry, strained eyes.  I was given capsules of liquid acetaminophen to use when the original anesthetics wore off, but they were never necessary.  That seemed pretty strange to me given that I just had the tips of my eyeballs sliced off.  (The thought has occurred to me that I'm just so used to constant pain at this point that I don't even notice things like that.)

Today, at the end of the weekend following my surgery, the only way you can tell by looking at me that anything is different is that my left eye is a bit bloody (which I'm told is common, due to capillaries getting sliced when cutting the flap).  In a week I'll be done with the medications and I'll just need moistening drops for the following few weeks.  And after that I'll get to experience again what it's like for people with normal vision, and I can already tell that it will be amazing.

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